Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Question: What number am I thinking of?

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: Authors, do not send out your manuscripts until they are ready. Agents and editors will remember, even if they don't know that they're remembering. I'll explain.

Whenever I see the fractal pattern of an MRI, I am reminded of how I felt standing at the lip of the Grand Canyon.

On real MRI film, I recognize the amygdala, the frontal cortex, and the hippocampus, but that's about it. People who study the brain can learn a bit more, but there is still a limit to how much they can process, and how detailed they get. How long would it take to sort through all of the millions of neurons that fire while you decide if you want to watch "Fear Factor" or "Dancing with the Stars"? But computers can do it in real time.

I listened to an interview on NPR of Orson Scott Card yesterday, and he said that if he knew what story would get a response like ENDER'S GAME, he would have written it. Card has been extremely successful, so it's hard to feel bad for him, but I know what he means. As a writer, you want to touch people and connect with them. If you're not doing that, you might as well write textbooks. Textbooks on brain imaging, perhaps.

Check out this video of an fMRI of a brain watching the trailer for "Avatar". Amazing, huh?

What images illicited the strongest responses? The alien? The kiss?

Will we put people in an MRI and watch their brain while we read our entire book to them? Our editor might come to us and say, "Cut this paragraph. The test listener wasn't engaged. And Ch. 7 needs a bump. Can Wanda slap Gregory then? Or they could have sex. Either one."

The funny thing is that the first fMRI done was by researchers trying to understand "The Pepsi Challenge" blind taste test (and now Pepsi, according to this *wink* article, is done with trying to change people. Thanks, Jeff). Researchers wondered why people would continue to drink Coke if some of them liked the taste of Pepsi better. They discovered that emotions help process decisions. I don't drink Co-cola anymore, but I still think of it fondly, because my grandma loved a snickers bar and a coke. LOVED them. Together. And when I think of Coke, a tiny part of my brain accesses my memories of her. EVERYTHING we look at gets checked against our previous experience.

It's a little tricky ethically. Input changes brain chemistry. Would you like it if someone wanted you to buy Miracle Whip and injected dopamine into your brain so you'll put some in your shopping cart? Watch this (ten seconds will be plenty to get the gist. Miracle Whip is the new beer.) and tell me if that's not the intention. In the comments below the video, however, people- apparently young people- are a little, shall we say, confused about this new direction, and someone compares Miracle Whip to orthopedic shoes. In other words, "Don't bother, MW. You're not cool." Neuromarketing says it doesn't matter too much what the hipsters say, the association between MW and cool is being made.

Are we ruled by these associations? No. Are these associations bad? Not necessarily. But think about this:

At the marketing meeting hubby went to, the speaker, Steve Whigham, told a story about a marketing guy who approached a bum and gave him ten bucks to let M.G. write the bum a new sign. The bum agreed, and M.G. left for an hour and then came back to see how the new sign was working. The bum gave him his ten bucks back and told him how great the sign had worked- instead of the usual $6-7 a day, he'd made $60. And what did the sign say?

"What if you were hungry?" Simple empathy.

Is marketing reminding us of things we already decided or manipulating us? I don't know.

For Thursday- my first experience with Sonic and a new game system with a foil hat. Yep. It reads your mind.

Answer: 1984


  1. This is an interesting topic, that's for sure, but you linked to the wrong movie. The Avatar trailer thingie is here. There are also quite a lot of articles, books, and movies out there trying to let people get a closer look into this issue. I fondly remember What the Bleep Do We Know?.

  2. Thanks JC. I thought I'd double checked all my links. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. No, that's the right link. It takes a sec for the trailer to start in the upper right corner, and you watch the real-time fMRI in the lower portion of the screen.